An appeal of the verdict handed to the 21 young women on Wednesday was accepted on Saturday after two Alexandria appeals courts agreed to review the sentence.
The 21women are members of the 7am movement, which organises peaceful protests before the beginning of the school day against the 3 July military-backed ousting of former president Morsi.
The 7am movement gained prominence after 21 of its members were arrested on 31 October during a demonstration. They were sentenced to 11 years in prison approximately one month after their detainment, a verdict that is considered to have been reached relatively quickly.
Out of the 21, seven are minors and fourteen are adults. The adults were sentenced to 11 years and one month in jail, while the seven minors were sentenced to juvenile detention until they are legally of age. The adults received six years for vandalism, four years for rioting and “thuggery”, one month for assembly and one year for possession of melee weapons.
Several reports surfaced stating that Judge Sherif Hafez, who is expected to head the appeals tribunal, was an ex-police officer. This prompted several lawyers to suspect the possibility of disqualifying the appeals judge and court due to a conflict of interest.
Hamdy Khalaf, a lawyer for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and part of the women’s defence team, confirmed that Hafez was a former police officer. He said that the defence team still did not discuss whether or not they would attempt to disqualify the appeals court judge, clarifying that disqualifying a judge in an appeals court is not a legal option.
“Several rumours have been surfacing regarding the case; however, we are 26 lawyers in the defence team and have yet to meet and discuss our defence plan during the appeal,” Khalaf said.
Ahmed El-Ghamry, one of the lawyers for the Alexandrian women and the spokesman for their defence team, said that the original sentence handed to them is “deplorable due to its harshness.”
“The prosecution’s report said that after inspecting the damaged buildings, it appeared that a scratch on a glass door was the result of the protest… the prosecution, however, presented four witnesses who did not confirm seeing the young women partaking in any violence,” Ghamry said.
“Although being sentenced for possessing melee weapons, no evidence was provided to support the charge,” he added.
During the trial, witnesses said that the women were walking around streets of Alexandria where residents in buildings started throwing rocks at them before they retreated.
Mahmoud Gaber, an attorney representing the women, accused the judge who handed them the sentence, Ahmad Abd El-Naby, of being “politicised”, adding that the judge completely disregarded Article 32 of the Criminal law. The article stipulates that if several crimes are committed for the same purpose and are so interconnected that they are indivisible, they shall all be considered one crime and a ruling shall be passed inflicting the penalty that is prescribed for the most serious of these crimes.
“The judge clearly violated this article, adding the penalties of all the offences together, therefore giving 14 of the girls 11 years of jail time,” said Gaber.
Several photographs surfaced after the sentence, allegedly showing the judge taking part in the 30 June protests while standing with friends wearing Tamarod campaign hats. The 30 June protests were partially responsible for ousting Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. The young women were protesting against the ouster.
“If we had known about the pictures initially, we would have disqualified the whole tribunal and asked for a different one as per civil procedural law,” Gaber said.
The 7am movement has been constantly targeted as a result of their continuous protesting.
The Ministry of Interior arrested 12 individuals belonging to the 7am movement in Heliopolis on Sunday after the protesters obstructed traffic movement.
A statement by the ministry said that after ignoring warnings by the police, security forces were able to disperse the protest using water cannons and tear gas, allowing for traffic to resume.
“The group is a subdivision of the Muslim Brotherhood movement,” the statement said.
The Ministry of Interior refused to provide any further information regarding the arrested individuals.